11 Regional Churches Vote to Disaffiliate from UMC Amid Nationwide LGBTQ Theology Schism
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Eleven congregations in Eastern Washington and North Idaho voted to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church this year over the church’s theology on LGBTQ issues, including same-sex marriage and ordaining openly queer clergy.
About half of the 11 churches that voted to disaffiliate have become independent and the other half have joined the more conservative Global Methodist Church, said the Rev. Daniel Miranda, district superintendent for the Seven Rivers and Inland districts of the Pacific Northwest UMC Conference.
“Over many decades, there have been conversations about ‘how inclusive are we?’” Miranda said. “We, in leadership in the United Methodist Church, as we’ve grappled with that question, have said we are truly inclusive.”
However, conservative UMC congregations were nervous about receiving a queer clergy member and wanted to put limitations on how inclusive they were willing to be, he said. Some congregations were willing to welcome LGBTQ people into their community but did not want to be led by a queer pastor.
“We have a gay bishop who is married to his husband,” Miranda said. “For some folks, that was the last straw.”
United Methodist News reports that over 6,000 congregations nationwide have received approval to leave the UMC since 2019, when the church initiated a four-year window for congregations to disaffiliate. Over 4,000 of those have left this year.
Same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy has been debated within the UMC since 1972, four years after the church formed, according to United Methodist Communications. Officially, the church does not allow “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” to be ordained, nor does it recognize same-sex marriages or allow them on church property — policies that have been met with growing resistance.
Mainly rural PNW congregations disaffiliate
While these disaffiliation votes are part of the larger national schism centering on LGBTQ issues, some rural congregations in the Pacific Northwest also feel the UMC requires a lot from them without giving enough in return, said the Rev. Geoff Helton, lead pastor of Audubon Park UMC in Spokane.
Helton’s congregation in Spokane was not interested in disaffiliating but has lost several members.
“Those who have remained, for the most part, have done so because there’s this sense that our connection and our relationships are more important,” Helton said. “We can allow for some difference of opinion.”
Within the districts he oversees, Miranda said there are more individuals looking to find another UMC congregation to join after theirs disaffiliated, rather than leaving their congregation because it is too inclusive.
Most of the congregations leaving are led by licensed or certified clergy, which have fewer educational requirements than ordained clergy, Helton said. Very few clergy members have left their congregations in this region.
Even though the UMC’s open and affirming stance is clear, there are still unanswered questions, Helton said, such as how to handle polyamory.
There are now over 60 remaining UMC congregations in the Seven Rivers and Inland districts. Miranda said churches that want to disaffiliate still have a few weeks before votes and paperwork need to be completed.
“Even as churches disaffiliate because they disagree with our stance on homosexuality, I still wanted us to leave in peace so that we could move on and be the church we want to be, inclusive of everyone, including the LGBTQ community,” Miranda said.
Emma Ledbetter is a freelance writer from Newcastle, Washington. She is a rising senior at Washington State University, where she is a microbiology major. She has written for The Daily Evergreen, WSU’s student newspaper, for the last three years and is currently serving as editor-in-chief. Emma is content as long as she is writing, and she hopes to be a science writer after she graduates. In her free time, she enjoys reading, hiking and playing with dogs.